Ruling Limits Employers' Right to Monitor Electronic Communications

June 20, 2008 ( - A ruling by the 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals makes it more difficult for employer's to monitor emails and text messages sent and received by employees on work-provided devices.

Judge Kim Wardlaw wrote in the three-judge panel’s unanimous opinion that employers that contract an outside business to transmit text messages cannot read them unless the worker agrees, according to the Associated Press. Users of text messaging services “have a reasonable expectation of privacy” for their messages, Wardlaw wrote.

The appellate court also ruled that employers can access employee emails only if they are kept on an internal server.

The Electronic Frontier Foundation, a non-profit group that advocates civil liberties said in a posting that the court has helped ensure the Fourth Amendment “applies to your communications online just as strongly as it does to packages and letters,” the AP reported.

The ruling came in a lawsuit by Ontario city police Sgt. Jeff Quon and three other officers who sued after wireless provider Arch Wireless turned over to the police department transcripts of Quon’s text messages to the other officers. Police officials said they read the messages to determine whether department-issued pagers were being used solely for work purposes.

Dimitrios Rinos, an attorney for the city of Ontario and its police department, said they will probably appeal the ruling.